For too long, American colleges and universities showed little interest in supporting victims of sexual assault or in disciplining student offenders, leaving the problem almost entirely to law enforcement. Unfortunately, in recent decades, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction.
In an attempt to appear tough on sexual assault and sexual harassment, many colleges and universities today prohibit expansive categories of behavior, loosely referred to as “sexual misconduct.” This umbrella term often includes speech that has the “effect” of creating an “intimidating” educational environment, as well as a range of other lawful activities, such as repeated requests for a date, accidental touching, and sex that takes place under the influence of alcohol or without explicit affirmative consent at each stage of the encounter.
To enforce these policies, colleges and universities have built massive sexual misconduct bureaucracies that employ Inquisition-like investigatory procedures. These procedures frequently stack the deck against the accused, by denying students access to the specific allegations and evidence against them; prohibiting accused students from questioning adverse witnesses or submitting exculpatory evidence; and disregarding the time-honored principle that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty.
Such procedures certainly increase school discipline-rates, but they do little to reduce sexual assault or harassment on campus and are fundamentally inconsistent with basic notions of fairness and due process.